Little Patuxent Review and CityLit Project have teamed up to promote the CityLit Festival, which is taking place right now, both in-person and virtually! Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project and the keynote speaker at this year’s CityLit Festival, will be speaking this weekend in Baltimore! For more information about Nikole Hannah-Jones and the festival click here. Please, also, scroll down for more information about the festival and this weekend’s events. Below is a short essay about The 1619 Project.
In August 2019, six months before Covid-19 changed the collective narrative throughout the world, Nikole Hannah-Jones launched The 1619 Project in the New York Times Magazine. Its purpose was to be an interactive experience, a print and digital piece containing multiple essays written by Times staff as well as historians, academics, lawyers and human rights leaders. Its intention was also to scrutinize our understanding of slavery in the United States and reconsider the origin story of our country.
The 1619 Project was a mammoth effort on the part of Hannah-Jones and the Times, requiring a deep dive into history books, excavating the ugly past of the nation. It contended with the darker, unscrupulous founding of our country and endeavored to give voice to the voiceless in an effort to reset our nation’s truths. In January 2020 The New York Times released a Podcast of the same name, devoting episodes not just to the original arrival of enslaved Africans but to the largely ignored labors that befell African Americans following Emancipation. The Podcast travels up and through the civil rights movement in America. In 2020, Oprah, The New York Times and Lionsgate teamed up to transform The 1619 Project into a longer conversation that will include both film and television content, some of which is slated to appear on Hulu in the near future.
The project has been controversial since its inception for the suggestion that America’s history begins in 1619, with the arrival, on the shores of Virginia, of 20-30 captive Africans on a ship called The White Lion. Clearly this is a radically different narrative from what most Americans associate with its origin: the arrival of Christopher Columbus or that of the Pilgrims in 1620, or more ceremoniously, the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Some indigenous Americans have argued that if we are to even consider reframing the history of the United States we must also consider the founding of Jamestown in 1607, formerly home to the Powhatan tribe. For her part, Hannah-Jones addressed this in an interview with The New York Times at the time of the article’s publication: “I did not want to render Native people invisible, but this was a story about chattel slavery. But I think it also speaks to how little good, comprehensive, smart, empathetic coverage we have of the two most marginalized groups in America, which are Native people and black people.”
In spite of the controversy surrounding critical race theory and Hannah-Jones work, The 1619 Project continues to grow and is a reminder that our promise as a nation, the promise that all men are created equal, that we are all entitled to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is and has always been a work in progress.
Two years after the publication of the Times Magazine article, Hannah-Jones produced a book of the same name, which includes essays from prominent writers and scholars, each speaking to different periods in American history. There is, too, a thoughtful preface by Hannah-Jones addressing much of the backlash that has come of the project. In it she says, “[We] think of history as settled, as a simple recounting of what events happened on what date and who was involved in those incidents. But while history is what happened, it is also, just as important, how we think about what happened and what we unearth and choose to remember about what happened.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones is the keynote speaker for this year’s CityLit Festival and will be speaking this Saturday, March 12th, 2022 from 2-4PM. The event will be live and virtual and moderated by Martha S. Jones. For more information about Nikole Hannah-Jones and this event click here.
Wendy Ruth Walker is a writer and editor based in Maryland. Her work just appeared in Cordella Magazine’s Field Notes. A previous story, “Cabinet of Animals”, received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s fall 2017 fiction contest. Walker is a former acquisitions editor at Atria Books, part of Simon & Schuster in New York. She has been a contributing writer to Stop Smiling Magazine, The Jewish Book Council and is the online editor for LPR. She is a recent graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars.